Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454

The short story "A Devoted Son" is fundamentally about the relationship between a son and his parents. Desai questions the responsibilities and obligations of this relationship as well as the moral dilemmas which arise from those responsibilities and obligations.

The eponymous son is conspicuously perfect. He is loving, dutiful, obedient,...

(The entire section contains 454 words.)

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The short story "A Devoted Son" is fundamentally about the relationship between a son and his parents. Desai questions the responsibilities and obligations of this relationship as well as the moral dilemmas which arise from those responsibilities and obligations.

The eponymous son is conspicuously perfect. He is loving, dutiful, obedient, and successful. He is a source of tremendous pride to his parents, so much so that the neighbors stream into the parents's house "to congratulate this Wunderkind" and tell the father that his son has "brought (him) glory." The son excels in his studies, wins a scholarship to study in America, and then returns home to marry the "plump and uneducated girl" that his mother has chosen for him. All the while, the son, Rakesh, bows down to his father and touches his feet.

Later in the story, however, the son keeps his sick father alive by taking away the food he likes and feeding him pills. The father is told off by the son when he doesn't follow the son's instructions as a doctor might rebuke a patient for not following his instructions. The father becomes resentful of his son, and angrily insists that he be allowed to die. This dramatic change in the relationship between the father and the son raises questions about independence. The son, when he was younger, dutifully sacrificed his independence to please his parents, even marrying the girl his mother chose for him. The father, in contrast, refuses to give up his own independence, even if it is ostensibly for his own benefit.

Perhaps Desai is suggesting that such fathers, those who expect their sons to be so dutiful and obedient, are hypocritical: they expect their sons to willfully renounce their independence but are themselves unwilling to do so. This hypocrisy is highlighted at the end of the story when the father essentially takes on the role of the child, and the son, conversely, takes on the role of the parent.

In turn, this hypocrisy raises other questions. What, for example, are the obligations and responsibilities of a father to his son and of a son to his father? Perhaps the father's obligation is to allow the son a degree of independence so that the son can become his own person rather than merely a manifestation of his father's wishes. And perhaps the son is responsible, in part, for the father's quality of life when the father grows old, sick, and frail. Perhaps the main point that Desai conveys is that the son can only become the man his father allows him to be. If the father fails to meet his obligations to the son, then the son will inevitably fail as regards his responsibilities towards the father.

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